WENZEL: Mother Nature, Murphy’s Law keep B section out of Wednesday paper
In the movie “127 Hours,” actor James Franco portrays a lone hiker who slips while hiking and lodges his hand among boulders. After five days trapped in the wilderness, he cuts off his hand to save his life.
That movie is based on a true story, by the way. It actually happened in New Mexico in 2003.
Maybe this is a bit melodramatic, but it’s rather how we felt here at The Daily Republic as we waited anxiously in the dark during a winter storm and widespread power outage Tuesday night.
To get the newspaper delivered — and in the end, that’s our chief concern here — we had to make a rare decision to send Wednesday’s edition without a B section. That meant our customers didn’t receive the sports section, comics, puzzles and classified ads.
Even as this is being written late Wednesday morning, the phones are still ringing and patient employees are trying their best to explain in a dozen or so words what, exactly, happened.
So, then: What happened?
For the second straight night, power went out in Mitchell. At 10:45 p.m., a great portion of south/southwest Mitchell went dark and eerily silent. At The Daily Republic, computers went blank, a few emergency lights blinked on and the press instantly went idle.
The Daily Republic abides by two strict printing deadlines. One section prints at 10:30 p.m., and the other at 12:15 a.m. After that, a legion of workers marries those sections, and also inserts the coupons and fliers that accompany our product most days.
Tuesday, we actually had a bit of luck on our side. Because inclement weather was looming, we had decided that our first edition would go to press about an hour earlier than usual. Because of that, we were just pulling that first section off the press when the power went out. Thank goodness for that.
Under the dim glow of emergency lighting, our night crew inserted the eight or 10 fliers scheduled for each of that day’s papers. And then they waited. And when the emergency lighting flickered out, they waited silently in the dark. It was a depressing scene.
Without power, we couldn’t print our second section. We also couldn’t operate the ink-jet labeling machines that print addresses on the thousands of copies we send through the mail each night.
Around midnight, we decided to break out the emergency sticky labels that we print out every month or so and have on hand just in case they’re needed. As news, composing and press staffers held flashlights and cellphones for light, the mailroom crew began the tedious process of sticking mailing labels onto papers.
Around 12:30 a.m., power returned.
Good, but one catch: The surge of electricity knocked out our computer system. So even though the press now could run, the entire second section was literally erased from existence.
I decided to send out just the first section. Professionally speaking, we lopped off a hand to save a life.
We’ve included that orphaned section in today’s paper. Wednesday’s edition was unique in that it didn’t include the B section; today’s edition is unique because it includes two separate B sections. I hope it never happens again, and I apologize for the inconvenience to our readers.
Now, the blood pressure has returned to its usual rate and the sharp headache has subsided. A familiar aroma tells me pizza has just been delivered, to feed the workers who have been toiling all morning to right our listing ship.
In the glow of my well-lit office and with heat coursing through the building, it’s hard not to recall that strange sight of two dozen people scurrying about in the shadowy glow of flashlights and cell phones. I’m also thinking of the hundreds of delivery drivers and carriers who had to rush this morning on snow-packed roads and sidewalks.
And if you’re one of the few readers who received a bright, handwritten note in your newspaper Wednesday, consider it a memento of one wild, snowy evening at The Daily Republic.
When we realized the second section was doomed and that our computers were dormant, we took a quick survey to determine who among the late-night crew had the best handwriting. Anyone who’s received a handwritten note from me knows my penmanship is elementary at best, so I was out.
Turns out Sports Editor and Mitchell native Brooke Cersosimo is handy with the pen. It wasn’t calligraphy by any means, but with a Sharpie marker she quickly wrote a note that explained the situation.
But alas, we learned that our company copy machine is quite pedestrian when compared to the rabbit’s pace of our seven-unit Goss Community printing press, and we were only able to make about 1,000 copies and insert them before time ran out. Delivery trucks were waiting, you know, and even Cinderella’s golden carriage was doomed to revert to a pumpkin.
Ah, a fitting end to an unfortunate, yet memorable, night.
Thank you for reading The Daily Republic, and thank you for caring enough to wonder why your sports, comics and classifieds weren’t included in Wednesday’s edition.
I figure there have been approximately 42,000 editions of The Daily Republic since its birth 135 years ago. These things happen, I suppose, and they’ll happen again because no matter how technology eases our lives and jobs, we’ll never completely overcome two of newspapering’s great nemeses: Mother Nature and Murphy’s Law.
I imagine one night a century ago, the hot-lead machine petered out and left old W.R. “Roy” Ronald wondering what the heck he was going to do. As editor, publisher and owner of this newspaper for 42 years, I bet he had his share of crises, too.
— Korrie Wenzel has worked at The Daily Republic since 1991, serving as publisher since 2010.